Francis The Pragmatist?

John L. Allen Jr. visited Argentina to report on Pope Francis. He writes that “people who know the lay of the land here insist there’s little meaningful sense in which Bergoglio could be described as a ‘conservative’, at least as measured by the standards of the church.” Some reasons why:

• Bergoglio is one of the least ideological people you’ll ever meet, more interested in concrete situations than in grand political theories.

• The most serious opposition to Bergoglio from within the Catholic fold in Argentina consistently came from the right, not the left.

• Despite a checkered personal history with the [center-left Argentine President Cristina] Kirchner family, Bergoglio had good relations with other members of Argentina’s current government, and is open to dialogue with all political forces.

The fact that he is the first Pope to come from a country that already has marriage equality – and that he was on the liberal wing of the conservative side on that issue within the church – seems salient to me. An ideologue could never have supported civil unions as an alternative, as Bergoglio did. A pragmatist – who could see the actual damage the church was doing to itself with its harsh rhetoric against gay couples – might. But the one thing Allen picked up on that I’ve also heard among Jesuit friends is Francis’ executive skills:

He’s a man comfortable exercising authority. Lozano said that during the twice-monthly meetings Bergoglio held with his six auxiliary bishops in Buenos Aires, he would always go around the table and solicit advice, and he took it to heart. When it came time to decide, however, things weren’t put up for a vote — Bergoglio made the call, and never seemed anxious or overwrought about it.

Third, Bergoglio may be a peace-loving man of the people, but he’s no naïf about the use of power to make his vision stick. Wals, for instance, noted that the new pope’s very first episcopal appointment was the choice of 65-year-old Mario Aurelio Poli of Santa Rosa as his successor in Buenos Aires. That move came on March 28, just 15 days after Francis was elected — among other things, a sign that the wheels may grind more quickly under this pope…

In the same way, Bergoglio also didn’t shrink from holding people accountable. Villarreal, for instance, said he’s familiar with at least one instance in which a priest wasn’t toeing the line, and after giving him a chance to straighten out, Bergoglio didn’t blink about sending him packing.